Diane Sawyer Takes an In-Depth look at the Young Dreamers and Survivors of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Fighting Against Decades of Neglect Airing Friday, October 14, 10 pm ET on ABC
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, is one of the 565 federally recognized Indian Nations in the United States. It is home to an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people, most of whom identify as Oglala Lakota Sioux. The reservation is 2.2 million acres, roughly the size of Connecticut, and the residents boast a rich cultural history and deep-seeded spirituality.
Unfortunately, the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge now live amidst levels of poverty that rival that of the third world. 47% of individuals on Pine Ridge are living below the federal poverty level, 65%-80% of the adults are unemployed, and rampant alcoholism and an obesity epidemic combine with underfunded schools to help make it a rough place to grow up.
But in the midst of such economic despair, there are youth across the reservation who are breaking through the hopelessness with huge dreams and powerful stories. Twelve-year-old Robert Looks Twice is captain of his middle school football team, a prize-winning traditional dancer at pow-wows, president of the student council, with the biggest dream of all: to be the first Native American president. He lives with his grandmother, uncle and eight cousins, helps feed his family with his pow-wow prize money.
Alaina Clifford is a bright, well-spoken 18-year-old cheerleader, singer, and actress, known for having the best singing voice at Little Wound High School. Alaina is dating athlete and star student Montana Sierra, who graduated from the only private school on the reservation, Red Cloud Indian School, with a free ride to college from the prestigious Millennium Gates Scholarship and a dream to be an architect. But the two face a harsh reality when Alaina unexpectedly becomes pregnant only four months after they begin dating. Now Alaina has to face tough choices about her next steps, unsure of whether or not she can follow her dreams.
Twelve-year-old Louise Clifford loves reading and math, and is learning how to speak Lakota. Her spirituality is very important to her, as is her horse, Glory Bee. But Louise struggles with an extremely unstable home life–her alcoholic mother Sissy struggles to hold down a job and keep the power and heat on throughout a harsh winter. Louise tried to commit suicide when she was just 11 years old and now her teachers and counselors are rallying around her.
Little Tashina Iron Horse is only five years old but has a huge personality–chatty and vivacious, a bubbly student in her kindergarten class, and a tiny but talented pow-wow dancer. Tashina lives in government housing with her grandmother, parents, siblings and uncles–sometimes 19 people live in the three bedroom house together. Tashina wants to grow up to be a cop, a career choice inspired by her mother, who works long hours as a security guard at the reservation’s casino 45 minutes away. Her father DJ is getting his GED and applying for a position in the tribe’s fire department when tragedy strikes the family.
“A Hidden America: Children of the Plains” also profiles law enforcement officials, schools, individuals and businesses that are helping to change Pine Ridge for the better.
More on Robert Looks Twice:
Boy’s Dream: Build a Better Playground, Become First Native American President
By Joseph Diaz
This kind of poverty is typical of the reservation. It’s the third poorest county in America and Robert’s community, Manderson, is known for its high crime rate. But despite all the temptations of drugs and alcohol around him (it is estimated the alcoholism rate on the reservation is as high as 80 percent) Robert remains focused on being the first person in his family to go to college and then a very big dream.
“I want to be the first Native American President,” Robert told Diane Sawyer. “I want to build better houses, clean up the [reservation] because it’s bad. Get people off the drugs and alcohol and spending that money on their kids. Build a better school and playground. Try to get a mall down here to help people get work.”
Below: Robert Looks Twice. (Elissa Stohler/ABC News)